SMEs and the ongoing fight to survive COVID-19

coronavirus
Pimlico Plumbers founder, Charlie Mullins says while coronavirus will lead to some sad business closures, it’s a time for the SME community to come out fighting and show the nation their resilience…

I don’t need to remind anyone that as a nation our backs are against the wall in the war on coronavirus, and it’s at times like this that you can really appreciate the amazing spirit that exists in this country.

As an ex-boxer, though, I know how important it is to come out of your corner fighting and that is what I am seeing from many businesses and their employees.

The statistics for business

Undoubtedly there will be some business casualties, which is desperately sad for our economy. Our SME sector made up of nearly six million business will indeed take a hit.

For some, it appears the first few weeks of pandemic the crisis has already taken its toll. According to research by productivity organisation Be the Business, in association with Opinium, 7% of firms have already shut permanently, and a further 12% believe they are likely to do the same within the next few weeks.

In addition, nearly 40% of small and medium-sized enterprises have closed temporarily or plan to do so within the next month.

This is a heart-breaking situation for the founders of these enterprises, and of course any employees they have. I just hope that they can come back stronger with the scars on their backs. 

It is, though, important to try and focus on the positives. Setting short term goals which, as each one is achieved, takes a business a step closer to the other side of this crisis, is an essential strategy.

Goal setting to ensure survival

One of the early stages of dealing with the crisis many have gone through is controlling and securing cash for the coming weeks, along with working out the best way to support and protect their workforces.

As I wrote the other week, the measures introduced by the chancellor were the best options open to him, and gave businesses hope with the prospect of getting hold of grants and loans. While the grants for small firms, which have been dished out by local authorities, have been quick to hit business’ bank accounts, the implementation of the loan system hasn’t been so smooth.

The heroes and villains of the tale

It is worth giving local councils a little bit of praise here. They are often the butt of public and business frustration due to their often snail’s pace bureaucracy, but on this occasion, they have risen to the challenge.

To date, the same cannot be said of the banks. It took an intervention from Rishi Sunak to stop banks pushing small firms towards standard business loans ahead of the Coronavirus Business Loan Interruption Scheme.

I don’t know how they dare. They’ve got more front than Brighton. The crooks in suits from the City were quick to grab hold of the public pound (or several billion of them) when they needed a bailout in the last financial crisis.

Rather than doing the right thing, they’ve had to be put back in their boxes by the chancellor who has stopped the banks asking business owners from putting their homes or savings up for collateral and charging interest rates of up to 30% after the first 12 interest-free months. 

Hopefully now, the money can get where it needs to be and help the wheels of the economy turn at enough of a pace to keep things ticking over. It will then allow them to focus on employing the guile, ingenuity and innovation that makes our SME sector shine.  

Adaptability and resilience

This brings me back to where I started. I have been amazed by the adaptability of businesses, such as those that have switched production to make equipment for the NHS or have adapted their operations to be able to continue to serve customers through the difficulties.

Sometimes this is a collective effort that brings knock-on business benefits too. At Pimlico, we are committed to maintaining an emergency call out service in London.  No one wants to be left without heat, light or water or faced with a burst pipe or blocked loo at the best of times, let alone during a stay at home lockdown. 

What we’re doing
We are prioritising the elderly, vulnerable and, of course, NHS staff who we are not charging labour costs for emergency call outs during the crisis. However, there is no way that we can make this happen without the dedication of our brilliant people.

To make things easier for them we have provided free parking and, in some cases, loaned vehicles to help them avoid travelling on public transport and also introduced a bonus of up to £140 per week.

I also wanted to make sure they could get their hands-on food and drink during their shifts at whatever time of day or night. In line with government guidelines we closed our canteen, but that hasn’t stopped us.

We have linked up with a great local business, The Sandwich Man, which is London’s leading ‘lunch to your desk’ provider. They are delivering great food to our people every day, which we are giving to our staff free of charge. The business is simply another one of the UK’s great entrepreneurial stories, which started with one man making cheese and pickle rolls in a tiny kitchen in Kensington and is now a successful enterprise serving nearly 2,000 workplaces every day.

It is great working with them and it really does give me heart that our entrepreneurial spirit and proud social conscious will help us get through this dark time.

Stay safe.

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